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Neuroscience News from the UR Community

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Third Annual Rochester Brain Bee sends Brighton High School Student to National Competition

Monday, February 4, 2019

Rochester Brain Bee 2019On Saturday, February 2, seven high school students competed for the title of Rochester’s Brainiest Teenager. The students came from five schools in the Greater Rochester Area and competed in a grueling day with three rounds of 30 neuroscience questions in front of a panel of University of Rochester researchers. Ania Majewska, Ph.D., Chris Holt, Ph.D., Liz Romanski, Ph.D., Jude Mitchel, Ph.D., and Heather Natola, Ph.D., served as judges for the competition.

The quiz-style competition was structured so that each student had the opportunity to answer every question and the student with the highest cumulative score was declared the winner. The competition was won by Emily Han who correctly answered 69 out of 90 questions. Emily will receive a trip to the National Brain Bee in Hershey, Pa. in April, sponsored by the Rochester Society for Neuroscience and the Department of Neuroscience. The National Brain Bee will consist of two days of neuroscience and neurology questions on topics such as patient diagnosis, neuroimaging analysis, pathology, and general brain facts.

The Brain Bee was organized by the University of Rochester Brain Awareness Campaign Committee as a kick-off to 2019. The Rochester Brain Awareness Campaign was founded in 2013 and continues to offer neuroscience outreach for free to local schools. Since its founding, the team has visited 25 schools and reached 4,000 students with 200 volunteers. It has also had booth exhibits at Rochester Marches for Science, attended a St. John Fisher’s science career day, and have had an official Rochester Girl Scouts badge every year since 2017. The organization is entirely student-run, and is supported by Ania Majewska, Ph.D., and the Rochester Society for Neuroscience.

Study suggests how high blood pressure might contribute to Alzheimer’s

Monday, January 28, 2019

The brain’s system for removing waste is driven primarily by the pulsations of adjoining arteries, University of Rochester neuroscientists and mechanical engineers report in a new study. They also show that changes in the pulsations caused by high blood pressure slow the removal of waste, reducing its efficiency.

This might explain the association between high blood pressure and Alzheimer’ disease, the researchers say. Alzheimer’s, the most common cause of dementia among older adults, is characterized by abnormal clumps and tangled bundles of fibers in the brain.

The study, reported in Nature Communications, builds upon groundbreaking discoveries about the brain’s waste removal system by Maiken Nedergaard, co-director of the University’s Center for Translational Neuromedicine. Nedergaard and her colleagues were the first to describe how cerebrospinal fluid is pumped into brain tissue and flushes away waste. Subsequent research by her team has shown that this glymphatic waste removal system is more active while we sleep and can be damaged by stroke and trauma.

This latest research shows “in much greater depth and much greater precision than before” how the glymphatic system functions in the perivascular spaces that surround arteries in the outer brain membrane, says Douglas Kelley, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and an expert in fluid dynamics. His lab is collaborating with Nedergaard’s team as part of a $3.2 million National Institute on Aging grant.

For this study, Humberto Mestre, a PhD student in Nedergaard’s lab, injected minute particles in the cerebrospinal fluid of mice, and then used two-photon microscopy to create videos showing the particles as they moved through the perivascular spaces.

Read More: Study suggests how high blood pressure might contribute to Alzheimer’s

In The News: UR study on brain waves may allow doctors to diagnose autism earlier

Friday, January 25, 2019

The following is an except of an article by Josh Navarro that originally appeared on WROC/RochesterFirst.com: 

A new study to help understand brain waves in children with autism is underway right now at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Their aim is to foster earlier detection and foster better therapies in the future.

Children with autism respond differently when they hear a sound such as music or see an illustration. Honing in the difference in brain waves between autistic children and children who do not have autism, is part of a new study  at Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at URMC.

“If you can provide a biological marker that could be reproduced earlier in a child's development, then that therapy can start earlier, the better outlook for that particular child,” said Dr. Evan Myers, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Cognitive Neurophysiology Lab in the University of Rochester Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience. 

Researchers will place a electroencephalography cap and have kids observe different images on a computer screen. The findings will determine the next step through clinical trials with the goal of diagnosing a child with autism a lot sooner. 

Read More: In The News: UR study on brain waves may allow doctors to diagnose autism earlier

Common test of mental state understanding is biased

Thursday, January 24, 2019

How do clinicians rate how well a patient understands what other people are thinking and feeling? That is to say—how does the patient assess another person’s mental state?

An accurate tool is key for measuring treatment outcomes and carries profound consequences for the patient’s mental and physical well-being.

To that end, psychologists determine a person’s mental state understanding (MSU), which is based on the theory that success in the social world hinges upon our ability to decipher and infer the hidden beliefs, emotions, and intentions of others. A large body of research has demonstrated that being able to do so results in a number of positive social effects: increased popularity, improved interpersonal rapport, prosocial behavior, and the like.

Conversely, those who struggle with MSU experience a variety of negative effects: few friends, isolation, and the risk for severe psychiatric illness, such as schizophrenia spectrum disorders. The link between social isolation, psychiatric illness, and mortality is a strong one, hence the importance of a reliable assessment tool.

Problematic test

The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) recommends a test, called the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Task (RMET). Here, participants view 36 black and white photographs, originally selected from magazine articles, of solely the eyes of Caucasian female and male actors. Participants then decide which of four adjectives—such as panicked, incredulous, despondent, or interested—best describes the mental state expressed in the eyes (the correct answer has been generated through consensus ratings).

But there’s a problem. Using data from more than 40,000 people, a new study published this month in Psychological Medicine concludes that the test is deeply flawed.

“It’s biased against the less educated, the less intelligent, and against ethnic and racial minorities,” says lead author David Dodell-Feder, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. “It relies too heavily on a person’s vocabulary, intelligence, and culturally-biased stimuli. That’s particularly problematic because it’s endorsed by the national authority in our field and therefore the most widely-used assessment tool.”

What surprised the researchers most was that the difference in the performance of people of some races and certain levels of education was as large or even larger than the difference between neurotypical people and people with schizophrenia or autism—two groups that exhibit well-documented, marked, and pervasive social difficulties.

Read More: Common test of mental state understanding is biased

Dr. Kuan Hong Wang comes to the University of Rochester

Monday, January 21, 2019

We are pleased to welcome Dr. Wang to the University of Rochester Medical Center, the Department of Neuroscience and the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience from the NIH.

Dr. Wang comes to us as the former chief of the Unit on Neural Circuits and Adaptive Behaviors at the National Institute of Mental Health. Dr. Wang received his B.A. in Biochemical Sciences from Harvard College and his Ph.D. from the University of California at San Francisco, where he studied the molecular regulators of sensory axon growth and branching during development with Marc Tessier-Lavigne. Dr. Wang obtained postdoctoral training with Susumu Tonegawa at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he examined the ways in which cortical neurons respond to an animal’s experience by directly visualizing the molecular activity of a given set of neurons over several days in the live animal. With this approach, he revealed a physiological function of neural activity regulated gene Arc in sharpening stimulus-specific responses in visual cortex.